This past week was World Diabetes Day, and the first of this month was Type 1 Diabetes Day.
There are endless lists of awareness days, each just as worthy as the next. Whether to raise awareness for a specific illness like epilepsy, or for helping to honor often overlooked groups, like Native Americans, these types of designations help to enlighten us all to issues and perspectives we might not normally think about.
The topic of diabetes hits close to home for me and my family, because my 10-year-old granddaughter is a Type 1 Diabetic.
While T1D is a manageable condition, it requires constant and vigilant monitoring of food consumption and activity, and daily doses of insulin, in order for the person to live.
Yes, without injections of life saving insulin, Type 1 Diabetes is a fatal condition.
As a classroom teacher for over 28 years now, I have had students with all kinds of challenges, conditions, and considerations. Allergies, asthma, learning disabilities, language barriers, physical challenges. The list is endless. You would think I have seen it all and experienced it all.
Yet when Ellie was diagnosed, and we, as her family, had to learn how to help her live with and manage her condition, I saw my classroom activities and routines in an entirely different light. Things that seemed harmless and fun, became dangerous and complex. Things like:
- Class Parties
o Whether a Holiday Class Party or the End of Year Party, these celebrations are always food centered. Pizza, chips, soda, and more. This is like running a deadly gauntlet for a child with T1D.
- Food/Goody Rewards
o Academic goals like number of books read or even behavior goals like positive feedback from the cafeteria staff, are often tied to candy or food rewards. These positives quickly turn into negatives for children who must take time to calculate and then inject themselves with insulin, in order to enjoy the “reward”.
- Birthday Celebrations
o Classmates’ birthday celebrations always seem to involve cupcakes or cookies or other sugary treats. For a child with Type 1 Diabetes, they cannot always participate due to their current glucose levels.
For a child without Type 1 Diabetes, these are routine events and are usually maneuvered and managed without any issues other than maybe a tummy ache from over indulging.
For a child with Type 1 Diabetes, these events become a minefield. Exact calculations of the carbs contained in each serving of each food, is required to calculate the proper dosage of insulin. Then the insulin injection must be given with the proper wait time between administration of the insulin and consumption of the food. A mistake in any of these can result in blood glucose numbers going through the roof, which can do long term damage to organs, or blood glucose numbers dropping so low that the risk of slipping into a diabetic comma may result in hospitalization. The emotional toll of dealing with these types of things, in addition to dealing with the normal school challenges, can be overwhelming for these children.
While I am not advocating for elimination of these things, I can tell you that I now think long and hard before relying only on food for these celebrations and rewards. Things like bookmarks, stickers, small toys, magazines, pop its, and more can be just as much fun. Movie parties and game time can be great rewards and celebrations.
To all the T1D Warriors out there, I see you, I support you, and I celebrate you!